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What to like, and not like, about the new NWSL x LIGA MX Femenil Summer Cup

Graphic on a yellow backgrounds that reads 2024 NWSL x LIGA MX Femenil Sumer Cup. There are also logos for each league.
Photo Copyright LIGA MX Femenil

The National Women’s Soccer League will not play regular season games during this summer’s Olympic break, but the league will not go completely dark either thanks to the announcement of the Summer Cup (formally the NWSL x LIGA MX Femenil Summer Cup). The 33-match event will include all 14 NWSL sides and the six top point-getters across Mexico’s Clausura and Apertura.

The five groups of four announced Wednesday will conduct a round-robin format between July 19 and Aug. 2 with the top four group winners advancing to the semifinals. The championship match will be held the weekend of Oct. 25-27 when both leagues are on another break for a standard FIFA window.

The tournament will mostly be held at NWSL venues in the United States. Angel City will host two matches at Titan Stadium and the Wave will host one at Torero Stadium. All three Washington Spirit matches are listed as TBD and the one all-Mexico match will be played south of the border. Information about the semifinals and final have not been announced.

Broadcast arrangements have not been announced either, which paints the Summer Cup in stark contrast to the Leagues Cup. In 2023, the first year of MLS’ Apple TV deal, the Leagues Cup was considered a major drawing card.

What to like

Getting American and Mexican teams together is always good for business as the Leagues Cup on the men’s side showed last year. Outside of a few token friendlies, this has not really happened yet, and with LIGA MX Femenil becoming established, it is a good time to start pushing the narrative.

Furthermore, it helps solve the forever debate about what to do with American soccer leagues and their summer schedules while the world—and many of the best players—are focused elsewhere. Some of the rosters, particularly on the NWSL side, will look a lot like they did in the summer of 2016, but at least it won’t be for games that count toward the regular season table.

Additionally, evening start times will not conflict with matches taking place in Paris, or any other live sports for that matter. (Conflicts with primetime Olympic programming, live or otherwise, is another story but also unavoidable.)

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What not to like

For one, the format is unacceptable. We can probably agree that no tournament or playoff format is without flaws, but there is a reasonable level of competitive integrity expected as a bare minimum. Playing a Cup competition with five groups and only advancing four teams to the semifinals does not meet that bare minimum. It means a team can literally win every match it plays and be sent packing without the opportunity to advance to the knockouts. That should never happen.

Sources have told The Equalizer that an earlier proposal for the Summer Cup included all LIGA MX Feminil clubs playing in smaller groups with a quarterfinal stage. It is unclear why that changed but it would have been a far more compelling tournament that way.

The tournament is also so top-heavy that 13 of the 30 group matches will be intra-league. Sixteen matches will be NWSL vs LIGA MX Femenil with one all-Mexican match between Tigres UANL and Pachuca.

Writer’s note: I’m probably in the minority but find the constant Reign-Thorns and Angel City-Wave “rivalry” games to be a bit much. Inclusive of all competitions the Reign and Thorns have played 38 times over 11 seasons. The next most common Thorns opponent is the Red Stars at 30 (31 for the Flash/Courage combo). The second most for the Reign is the Spirit with 30.

Finally, it may be a rite of passage into the big time, but we are now actually talking about fixture congestion for NWSL teams. With the W Concacaf Cup coming, three teams are likely to have two additional August matches stuffed into the calendar with trips to Central America a possibility. If the Wave and Gotham are among those teams as expected, it would take them each 36 matches to win the Summer Cup and NWSL Championship. It would take 35 for everyone else. Similar issues will apply to the Mexican clubs.

Fixture congestion will also hinder the event itself. It probably could not be helped but only two of nine match days will not have overlapping matches. July 20 features six matches, none of which have their own window.

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